Monrovia – Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson, a former warlord, now politician and pastor says it’s “foolish” for anyone to call for the establishment of war crimes court in Liberia.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
Senator Johnson then ‘General Johnson,’ assassinated former President Samuel K. Doe at the Freeport of Monrovia in 1990. He’s also accused of wanton, indiscriminate killings and a host of other atrocities during the civil war in Liberia.
The so-called ‘Man-of-God’ shows no remorse for his actions during the war – even on the pulpit. For him, his actions were in defense of the people of Nimba.
He recently told his congregation at the Chapel of Faith Ministries in Paynesville that he couldn’t have sat hands folded while members of his county were being slain by the military under the command of slain President Doe.
He maintained that the oath of the army is to defend the sovereignty of the people, not the sovereignty of the President.
Relying on President’s Protection
The Nimba County Senator, standing before his congregation, boasted of handing Nimba over to President George Manneh Weah, thereby, making it possible for him to become President.
He insinuated that President Weah will not give the county up to a war crimes court. In this regard, he says he as a leader of the county will galvanize all Nimbaians to overwhelmingly support President Weah’s second term bid. He, however, said such support would be based upon the number of Nimbaians appointed to key government positions.
“… If you touch George Weah, you’ve touched us. He has got our backing and we, too, got his backing; so, your war crimes court is fiasco,” he told the congregation.
It can be recalled Senator Johnson vigorously campaigned for President Weah in the vote-rich Nimba during the 2017 election.
Senator Johnson accused the then Chairman of the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), Jerome Verdier, of concealing the true results of the referendum as to whether Liberia should have a war crimes court or not. According to him, the true results of the consensus show 85 percent of Liberians, both at home and in the diaspora, voted against the establishment of war crimes court.
FrontPageAfrica has not been able to independently verify this information.
Liberians suffered tremendously over the course of Liberia’s two armed conflicts spanning more than 14 years. Abuses included summary executions, large-scale massacres, rape and other forms of sexual violence, mutilation and torture, and widespread forced conscription and use of child combatants.
UN H’Rights Committee Calls for Prosecution
Early this month, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the Committee), a body of independent experts that monitors the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) by its State parties, issued strong concluding observations on Liberia’s continued impunity for past crimes and human rights violations and called upon the Liberian government to establish, as a matter of priority, a process of accountability for war crimes.
According to the Committee, it “regrets the very few steps taken to implement the bulk of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations of 2009.” It also expressed “concern that none of the alleged perpetrators of gross human rights violations and war crimes mentioned in the TRC report, has been brought to justice, and that some of those individuals are or have been holding official executive positions, including in the government.”
In July this year, a Coalition of 76 Civil Society Organizations from Liberia, Africa and other parts of the world called on the government of Liberia to undertake fair and credible prosecutions of international crimes committed during the two civil wars.
Their submission was made to the UN Human Right Committee ahead of the appearance of the Liberian government’s delegation before the Committee.
“Since the war ended in 2003, the Liberian government has skirted the issue of criminal accountability for war crimes,” said Hassan Bility, executive director of the Monrovia-based Global Justice and Research Project.
“Not one person has been prosecuted for past violations,” he added.
Pres. Weah Mum on War Crimes Court
On Tuesday, May 8, a group of concerned Liberians petitioned the Legislature for the establishment of war and economic crimes court. However, signals from some government officials and even lawmakers hinted that the petition was dead on arrival.
Deputy Information Minister for Public Affairs, Eugene L. Fahngon, told reporters at a regular press briefing few days later that though the government under the administration of President George Weah would consider the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation, such is not a top priority for the government.
Fahngon said, “We are not ignoring the calls for a war crimes court; it’s just that we want to focus on the things that matter most to the Liberian people right now and one of the things is the TRC except that it is not at the top of the list right now.”
According to Fahngon, it would do no good for Liberians when a war crimes court is established while the bulk of Liberians do not have jobs and access to basic services and amenities.
Fahngon couldn’t come clear on the government’s position of war crimes court which, according to many Liberians, would help end the culture of impunity which has permeated the society and at the same time help the country reconcile.
“The government position is very clear, at no point in time that this government said to anyone that we will not encourage a war crimes court, or we will encourage a war crimes court,” he said.
When President George Manneh Weah was serving as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2004, establishing a war crimes court for the prosecution of warlords and perpetrators of heinous war crimes in the country was of paramount concern to him. The trend, however, has drifted now that he’s the President.
In that capacity, Weah, the soccer star, at time campaigned massively, especially at the international level for justice for poor victims of the war and at the same time lamenting the recruitment and arming of children as fighters.
In April 2004, Weah was invited by UNICEF to participate in the disarmament, demobilization, rehabilitation and reintegration (DRRR) program. At a news conference at the UNICEF-Liberia headquarters in Monrovia he said, “Those who armed the children and committed heinous crimes against them should be brought to book”.
President Weah, passionate about seeking justice for victims of the war at the time, said the tribunal, when established, should be given the authority to identify, locate, arrest and prosecute all those who committed heinous crimes during the devastating and bloody war in the country.
Fourteen years on, Weah is President but not much has been heard from him regarding the establishment of the war crimes tribunal neither the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendations, which have been languishing since 2009.
His political party – Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) – thinks establishing such a court now would be detrimental to the country’s fragile peace.
During former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s regime, the CDC vehemently called for the prosecution of warlords who participated in the 14-year bloody civil war.
However, the party’s chairman, Mulbah Morlu, is on record for saying the regime is not prepared for the establishment of war crimes court or implementing the TRC recommendations.